Tag Archives: humanae vitae

Realizing the “Con” in Contraception – Humanae Vitae at a Half-Century

LONG-HELD TEACHING

The document taught nothing new, but rather reaffirmed Church teaching condemning artificial contraception. Yet Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) met with considerable opposition amid the tumultuous atmosphere of the late 1960s. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and a proliferation of protest movements called all authority into question. Even within the Catholic Church, some believed the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council might lead to a relaxing of Catholic teaching involving sexual ethics.

What’s more, a special commission, appointed by Pope John XXIII and expanded by Paul VI to advise on the question of contraception, was reported to have advocated a change in the teaching.

Those who anticipated such a rollback were sorely disappointed with the 1968 encyclical.

Arguing from natural law, Humanae Vitae upheld the principle that “every conjugal act must remain open to the transmission of life.” Catholicism has traditionally taught that the sexual act in marriage has both a unitive purpose and a procreative purpose. It is unitive because it is a sign of the marital union, an exclusive and lifelong commitment of selfgiving love; and it is preeminently procreative because by its very nature it is ordered to the creation of new life.

These purposes also provide the foundation for a large body of Catholic moral teaching. The unitive dimension means sexual expression must be reserved to husband and wife, and that they remain faithful until death. The procreative dimension means a couple cannot interrupt or place artificial barriers to the process of generating life. In plainer terms, that excludes not only abortion and sterilization, but also the birth-control pill, contraceptive devices, and any action “specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

Some critics predicted Humanae Vitae would collapse under opposition and that papal authority itself would be undermined. But Pope Paul also predicted a few things of his own — consequences for what might happen if the use of artificial contraception were to become widespread.

PROPHECY TO FRUITION

A half-century later, it seems Paul VI was right and his critics wrong: the teaching and the papacy have survived, and Paul is often called “prophetic” for the accuracy of his warnings.

He warned in Humanae Vitae that contraception could “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” particularly for young people. He believed contraception would lead to the objectification of women, whereby a man would “forget the reverence due to a woman” and reduce her to “a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” Governments might impose contraceptive measures on their citizens. It is not too challenging to find illustrations of these consequences today.

Humanae Vitae also states that married love requires responsible parenthood, which itself means “an awareness of, and respect for” natural biological processes, using reason and will to exercise self-discipline over “innate drives and emotions,” and “due respect for moral precepts.”

Couples who have “serious reasons” for avoiding pregnancy, therefore, may licitly take advantage of the natural cycles of the woman’s fertility and choose to engage in sexual intercourse only during her infertile days. Such morally acceptable methods today are collectively described as “natural family planning.”

PANDEMIC CONSEQUENCES

The richness of Humanae Vitae has been explicated further by Pope John Paul II, particularly in his talks on the theology of the body. Yet the encyclical’s teachings have not been widely embraced, and the terrible consequences of which it warned – and worse – have come to pass.

Dr. Janet E. Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, believes matters have become even worse than Paul VI imagined.

“Pope Paul VI’s predictions were prophetic and have come true more emphatically than he could possibly have anticipated,” said Smith, who has written and lectured widely on Humanae Vitae and sexual ethics. “The number of children being raised by single mothers, the number of children being killed by abortion and the frequency of fractured marriages is much greater, I suspect, than he would have thought.”

To her knowledge, she added, neither Paul VI nor anyone else in the late 1960s foresaw “that the use of pornography would become an epidemic, that people of the same sex would be able to ‘marry’ each other, and that young children would be able to choose their sex and would undergo operations that would permanently alter them.”

Father Francis J. “Rocky” Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, lauded Paul VI for his foresight.

“The ‘prophetic’ nature of Humanae Vitae was not due — in my opinion — to some mystical experience of Blessed Paul VI, but based on his understanding of natural law and the importance of following the nature of things,” said Father Hoffman. “Sex is fundamentally about procreation and not recreation, and when that order is confused, the result is what we see today.”

That result — the observable decay in moral standards, marriage and family life — is discouraging. So is the polling data.

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, only 13 percent consider the use of contraception as “morally wrong.” By comparison, just 4 percent of all Americans held a similar view.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of weekly Mass attendees say contraception is “morally acceptable,” while 42 percent say it is “not a moral issue.”

BE NOT AFRAID

Father Hoffman believes the fundamental resistance to Humanae Vitae may be rooted in fear. “That primal human passion can only be remedied by a deep and trusting relationship with God,” he said.

Smith agreed that fear is a factor. Catholics “must not be afraid of the topic,” she said. “We must not be afraid to be radical Catholics who embrace the faith in its fullness.”

She believes contraception is the linchpin to changing the culture on other moral issues.

“Unless this problem is addressed, not much progress will be made on the others. To address the problems of our culture we need mature, wise, generous persons, and our current culture is not producing such,” said Smith. “The best nurturing environments for the leaders we need are intact, faith-filled households, and spouses who don’t contracept are most likely to establish such households.”

For faithful Catholics who wish to help transform the culture, Father Hoffman prescribes leading by example.

“The best way to promote the teachings of Humanae Vitae is to live what Pope Francis calls the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’” he said, “and witness that joy in large families who have more faith than money, more love and deep human emotion than material things.” Humanae Vitae acknowledges the difficulties couples may face in remaining faithful to the Church’s teachings on contraception and married love. It urges them to find strength in prayer and the sacraments so as to persevere.

Religion is not easy for anyone, said Father Hoffman, and Catholics are no exception.

“To live one’s faith more authentically requires daily spiritual struggle, based on prayer and sacrifice, realizing that the sacrifice most pleasing to God is to make life more pleasant for the people we live and work with,” he said. “But fundamentally, the ability to live a life of faith is a gift from God — a gift we should ask for daily.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

BLESSED POPE PAUL VI AT A GLANCE

Born Giovanni Battista Montini, Sept. 26, 1897, in Concesio, Brescia, Italy

Ordained May 29, 1920

Served in the Vatican diplomatic corps and Roman curia, 1922-54

Served as archbishop of Milan, 1954-63

Elevated to cardinal, 1958

Elected pope June 21, 1963, succeeding Pope John XXIII

Continued Second Vatican Council to its completion, implementing its reforms

Promulgated new Order of Mass, 1970

Dubbed “The Pilgrim Pope,” the most traveled pope up to his time; visited six continents; made pastoral visit to the U.S., 1965

Survived assassination attempt in the Philippines, 1970

Wrote eight encyclicals, including Mysterium Fidei (on the Eucharist), 1965; Populorum Progressio (on the development of peoples), 1967; and Humanae Vitae (on human life), 1968

Expanded ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches

Canonized 84 saints, and beatified St. Maximilian Kolbe

Appointed 143 cardinals, including his next three successors (Popes John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI)

Died of a heart attack, August 6, 1978, age 80, at Castel Gandolfo

Cause for canonization opened 1993; declared venerable, 2012; beatified, 2014; to be canonized Oct. 14, 2018

Standing strong for the family

…Experts say the Vatican’s Synod on the Family must defend traditional teaching while acting as a ‘field hospital’ in a sin-sick world

synod-featureFamily problems like divorce and fatherlessness have long concerned the Church. When bishops gather Oct. 4-25 in Rome for the ordinary synod on the family, they will discuss the difficulties they’re seeing in families around the world — and offer solutions to the Pope.

Although some Bishops and Secularists would like to see major doctrinal changes resulting from the Synod — like the approval of homosexual activity or the allowing of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communionv — the reality is that the Synod will certainly disappoint them.

Extraordinary Synod

Fr. Gerald Murray

Fr. Gerald Murray

One of the reasons many Catholics are anxious about this synod is because of the media circus and confusion that swirled around the Extraordinary Synod which met in Rome last October. What emerged was division among participants: On one side was a group of bishops who want Church doctrine to change on issues of homosexuality, contraception, and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics; on the other side were bishops who want to uphold time-honored Church teachings on marriage and family.

“We are in the midst of a debate that will try to influence each side,” said Fox News contributor Fr. Gerald Murray. “Both sides have been going back and forth. However, I don’t believe there will be a change in Church teaching.”

German and Swiss bishops head the camp opposing Church teaching on the family, with de facto leader German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

“The German Church is the wealthiest one in the world because of a very peculiar tax system, so most German bishops agree with Kasper,” said Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office.

In May, two-thirds of the German bishops voted to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — and those living in homosexual unions — to continue employment in Church-run institutions.

Faithful Catholics look to U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke as their leader. Priests who found their vocation under Pope St. John Paul II, as well as bishops from Africa, Asia and the Middle East occupy this camp. They want Humanae Vitae (Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical opposing artificial birth control) and John Paul’s Theology of the Body to be better integrated into Catholics’ lives.

Pope Francis will use the synod’s final document to craft an apostolic exhortation on the family. Most believe that he will uphold Church teachings, while calling upon Catholics to be merciful towards struggling families.

Finding focus

Although no one knows the synod’s outcome, there are a myriad of opinions as to what the bishops will discuss.

“I would like to see efforts to strengthen family life, helping people face challenges like divorce, raising children in the faith, and preparing couples for marriage,” said Fr. Murray, pastor of Holy Family Parish in New York City. “I would like to see a clearer teaching on Humanae Vitae, not as a Catholic hang-up but as the key to cooperating with God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a delegate to the synod, told Legatus magazine that there is a great need for the Church to accompany those who are hurting.

“It’s not easy to live a good life,” he said. “For us to be that healing touch of Christ, we need to be a ‘field hospital.’ We have to be that light on the mountain, not a light hidden under a bushel.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Kurtz says the Church needs to inspire witnesses — including single parents — to stand up and speak about the sacrifices they’ve made for their children and their marriages.

“They often say to me, ‘I don’t want my child to endure what I did alone,’” he said. “We need to call forth couples and families who can be mentors for others. There needs to be witnessing going on in neighborhoods, one family to another, even informally.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., said he “would like to see the synod identify cultural obstacles that make it difficult to live out marriage — and give couples the tools to navigate them. There are all kinds of wonderful tools for couples. I think that families can get overwhelmed, distracted and lose hope.”

Jayabalan said the synod fathers need to talk about the state of marriage in the wake of the sexual revolution.

“They should go back to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae: What do we need to do to practically to teach this again?” said Jayabalan. “They should also find ways for married couples to give their testimonies.”

Creative solutions

Many dioceses and individual bishops are already working on creative solutions to the problems families face. For example, the Pittsburgh diocese announced recently that it would stop charging a fee to begin the annulment process. In the Archdiocese of Louisville, it’s been free for 15 years. The Diocese of Lincoln waives the fee if necessary and asks for a donation when possible.

Bishop Conley’s Lincoln diocese is also working on a tribunal outreach.

“Oftentimes, in the process of annulments, we wait for couples to come to us,” said Bishop Conley. “The idea now is to present a positive message and go out and find couples that are outside the Church. The idea is to offer them a remedy to look at the Church again. We will also have someone shepherd them through the annulment process. It will be a person-to-person ministry.”

The Lincoln diocese is also looking for ways to speed up the process.

Bishop James Conley

Bishop James Conley

Bishop Conley published a pastoral letter on contraception in 2014 called “Language of Love,” which re-presents Humanae Vitae in a way that people can understand today.

“It reaches out in a pastoral way,” he said. “The whole issue of contraception is at the heart of so many struggles.”

In terms of the New Evangelization for families, some dioceses, notably Lincoln and Denver, are leading the way with online resources to help struggling families — articles, webinars, audio links, blogs, and links to organizations devoted to helping couples and families.

Proponents of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the family want to encourage those faced with difficulties.

“What I would like to see at the Synod is the rich treasure of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage re-presented in a robust way,” said Bishop Conley. “I know that there are all kinds of struggles, but we cannot lower the bar on our teaching.”

Archbishop Kurtz concurred. “We cannot turn away from the great gift of marriage as a union of one man and one woman who are open to new life. We need to be true to the dignity of every person.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Learn more:

Ordinary Synod: An advisory body to the Pope that considers issues of the Universal Church or specific to a certain geographical area. Meetings are held at fixed intervals.

Extraordinary Synod: A special synod that is held to deal with urgent matters. Only three have been held since the Second Vatican Council.

Without children, is a marriage valid?

KARL KEATING: Catholic couples who are not open to children are not validly married . . . 

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Of course it is! If that weren’t the case, then no couple would have a valid marriage until their first child was born. A marriage is valid as soon as the vows are exchanged and the marriage is consummated — that is, when the first sexual union takes place.

Until a child is conceived and born, a husband and wife can’t be sure they will have a child, no matter how much they might want one. Perhaps they are unaware of a medical problem that makes it impossible for them to have children.

That said, there is a sense in which the claim is true. If a bride and groom never have children because, right from the first, they never intended to have children, their marriage is invalid — not because of the absence of children, but because they did not meet the requirements for a sacramental marriage.

Marriage has two aspects, the unitive and the procreative. A man and woman join themselves in holy matrimony. They perform the marriage themselves — they aren’t “married by” the priest. The priest only serves as the Church’s chief witness. A deacon could also serve as the Church’s chief witness. Once the couple gives proper consent, the two are married. This consent must include an openness to the goods of marriage — both the unitive (“the two of them become one body” Gen 2:24) and the procreative (“be fertile and multiply” Gen 1:28). If this openness is absent, the consent is imperfect, and no sacramental marriage results. Although the parties live together, they aren’t really husband and wife. They have no marriage.

Some people think that married people aren’t really Catholic unless they have many children. Children, of course, are a great blessing, and it is a wonderful thing to see large families. But not every couple is able to have many — or even any — children. The validity of the marriage and the worth of married people as Catholics are not measured by the number of their offspring.

As Blessed Pope Paul VI discussed in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), every marriage must remain open to new life, and that is all God requires. This openness means that contraception is always a grave evil and is never morally right. Yet, if there are serious circumstances (such as the poor health of the mother), parents may limit the number of children they have through abstinence or modern, scientific, natural family planning, which takes account of a woman’s natural infertile periods but does not, as contraception does, eliminate all openness to new life.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith.

Catechism 101

Conjugal love … is open to fertility. By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves.

God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1643, 1652, 1654

Family as the foundation of culture

Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt’s address to this year’s Napa Institute . . .

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Dear friends in Christ,

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.  Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polis.  The state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.  Inspired by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “man is by nature a social being since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort.  Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well.  He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”[1]  And Pope Leo XIII develops Aquinas’ thought further, recognizing that “man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties.”[2]  Indeed, just as our communities and the state itself imitate the structure of the family, our economy is also modeled after oikonomia—the Greek word for household management.

I. The Biblical Basis

In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of creation through God’s direct intervention. God breathed life into Adam and then removed one of his ribs to create a woman, Eve.  God did not take a piece of the man’s head so that woman would dominate him, nor did God take a bone from the man’s foot so that he should dominate her.  Rather He took a rib from man’s side, signifying that man would be an equal to woman and she to him.  “And Adam said: ‘This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.  Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.’”  Two become one: male and female God created them[3] together in His image and likeness, a reflection of the goodness of their Creator who blessed them with a command to increase and to multiply, filling every corner of the earth.[4]

II. The Sacramental Reality

Jesus Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and thereby reaffirmed the moral law, reminding us why he came into this world: to perfect that which was imperfect; to loosen our hardened hearts.

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished.”[5]

The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, which itself is a translation of the Greek word mysterion, a word which signifies one of the seven central liturgical rites of the Church through which participants experience the Paschal Mystery of Christ and grow in the life of grace.  The Church herself is the mysterion, or sacrament of salvation, as she communicates God’s love, which, in turn, draws believers into greater levels of holiness.

The Second Vatican Council called for a renewal in the understanding, approach and practice of the celebration of sacraments within the total life of the Church.  The sacrament of marriage has benefited from this renewal by receiving a greater emphasis on the interpersonal life shared between a husband and wife, on how the spiritual life of the spouses grows from this interpersonal dynamic, and how these two factors both contribute in existential quality to the ongoing development of the marital relationship in a continual process of becoming.[6]  As the result of a sacramental marriage, a couple is truly married “in the Lord” and his redeeming grace penetrates their love and deepens their union.

The family, comprised of one man and one woman, is bound by their love in a lifelong commitment that is mutual, exclusive and open to new life.  Marital love between spouses transcends even each other as they enter into a triune relationship with God.  The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Love is triune or it dies… [w]hat binds lover and beloved together on earth is an ideal outside both. As it is impossible to have rain without the clouds, so it is impossible to understand love without God. ”[7]  As the author of marriage and love itself, God expresses love in the giving of self, never reserved only to the spouse and the home.  Certainly, it begins and ends there, but it is meant to be shared for the benefit of the common good,[8] making good use of the three theological virtues of hope, faith and charity, and holding an exclusive and preeminent fidelity modeled in Christ and His Church.

The modern world, however, speaks to us about self-fulfillment and self-gratification.  From its perspective, when other people enter into our lives they are said to give our lives meaning. Instead of looking to Christ as our true source of adoration and perfection, our neighbor becomes the source of meaning for our existence.  Yet no mere human being can be substituted for God’s magnificence or His undying love.  Only in Christ can we quench the longing found deep within our hearts.  When we try to find perfection in another person we are quickly disappointed.  Disappointment turns into divorce and divorce shatters families, leaving behind vulnerable children forced to survive the tragic circumstances of their parents’ separation.

Years ago, Fr. Patrick Peyton sounded the mantra that “the couple who prays together, stays together.”[9]  This is true because, if husband and wife are addressing God together in heartfelt adoration or petition, then the presence of the marital grace that rests in each spouse will be stimulated to new growth.  The married couple should together attend Sunday Mass and other Holy Days of obligation, so as to be nourished by the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist for the sake of their own marriage and in order to be a leaven in the world.

The love that Christ has for His Church provides the model for the complementary love of husband and wife.  As spouses and as parents, they are called to seek “first the kingdom of God and His justice,”[10] pledging to raise their children in the Catholic faith.  This permanent union between one man and one woman with its unitive and procreative properties, shares the joy of heaven with their offspring, their greatest treasures on the earth, gifts entrusted to parents by the love of God.

III. Two Views of Marriage

While our perspective on marriage and family life are radically influenced by our belief in God, his revelation in Jesus Christ as well as the natural moral law, nevertheless the proper use of reason can of itself teach us about the true meaning of marriage.

In a wonderful, recently published book entitled, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robert George carefully delineate and evaluate two distinct views of marriage that are prominent in our nation’s ongoing marriage debate.

The first they define is the conjugal view of marriage understood as a comprehensive union, that is to say, the joining of spouses in body as well as in mind, in an act that begins by consent and is then sealed by sexual intercourse.

Being consummated in an act of bodily union, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation, which calls for the broad sharing of a domestic life uniquely fit for family life.  This all-encompassing act calls for the equally all-encompassing commitment of permanence and exclusivity.  Valuable as it is in itself, its link to the welfare of children make marriage a public good that the state ought to recognize and support.

The second view proposed is what the authors call a revisionist view of marriage.  Here the union is between two people who commit to a romantic partnership and a shared domestic life.  It is essentially an emotional union, merely enhanced by whatever sexual activity the partners find agreeable.  Such unions are seen as valuable as long as the emotion lasts.  The state should recognize them, it is said, because it has an interest in their stability as well as the well-being of any children they may choose to rear.[11]

The authors argue in favor of the conjugal view of marriage, admitting that like friendship, marriage is a type of bond between two persons.  But, they point out, marriage is a special kind of bond because it unites the spouses in body as well as in mind and heart in a way that is apt for and enriched by procreation and family life.  The spouses vow their whole selves for the whole of their lives.  Thus, its comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.[12]

The authors are also quite clear about what they see are the dangers of the revisionist view:

“If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage.  They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life—but as essentially an emotional union . . . they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it.  Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do.  That is, to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others.  And this besides making any remaining restrictions on marriage arbitrary, will damage the many cultural and political goods that get the state involved in marriage in the first place.”[13]

One might assert here: As the understanding of marriage goes, so goes the way of the family and the culture it shapes and fosters.

If indeed marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the cornerstone of society, then it is essential to the progress of any civilization that the consequences of choosing between a conjugal view or a revisionist view of marriage be weighed carefully and thoughtfully, especially in regard to the other negative forces that are impinging on the social reality of family life.

IV. The family under attack

Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life.  Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth.

A. Contraception as a primary factor

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968, reaffirmed the Church’s teaching regarding marital love and the rejection of most forms of birth control.  Promulgated just three years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclical rapidly became the most intensely debated Church document in centuries, perhaps more than any other solemn teaching of the Church in the entire history of Christendom.  Public dissent followed. Various scholars and proud public adversaries, then and many still today,[14] view fertility as a hindrance rather than a blessing, falsely arguing in favor of the “right” to enjoy unrestrained sex, within and outside the confines of Holy Matrimony, with no regard for the rights of God or the common good.[15]  

But Humanae Vitae proved itself a prophetic witness, by warning of what would happen should contraception gain widespread acceptance, namely:

1. Artificial methods of birth control would become the leading vehicle towards the lowering of moral standards for the young and a catalyst for marital infidelity.

2. The use of contraception would objectify and disrespect women, and wives in particular.

3. That in the hands of governments, contraception would become a powerful tool in forcing the use of contraceptives on individuals, as well as institutions.

With regard to the first point, statistics reveal that today only 3% of Catholic married women rely on natural family planning.  At the same time, 70% of unmarried Catholic women are sexually active by their early 20s.[16]

Secondly, few are aware of the World Health Organization’s listing of contraceptives as “group one carcinogens” for breast, liver, and cervical cancers.[17]  Mounting evidence also shows the link between birth control pills and women’s susceptibility to immune disorders such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Thirdly, Pope Paul VI’s prediction about government overreach has also found vindication in our current struggle over the Health and Human Services Mandate.  As you know, HHS will require employers to provide insurance coverage of prescription contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including sterilization procedures and abortion-causing drugs.  The mandate imposes contraception as a matter of public policy without any recourse to public debate, denying employers the right to follow the dictates of their own consciences and refusing public access to dispute the moral implications of contraceptive use.  Although the purpose of health care is to diagnose, prevent and cure illnesses, and health insurance is meant to lower the cost of treatment, contraception’s raison d’être is to prevent pregnancy, to separate reproduction from the sexual act solely for the private interest of sexual recreation.  Birth control, as G.K. Chesterton warned, “…does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control.”[18]

B. Other challenges to marriage

Besides contraception, there are other forces at work today that challenge the intended reality of marriage as a lifelong, committed and procreative union between one man and one woman, such as:

1. Five of every ten marriages end in divorce[19]

2. Nearly one of every three Americans over the age of 15 has never been married, the highest level in a decade.[20]

3. The rate of cohabitation has accelerated from 450,000 couples in 1965 to well over 5 million couples today.[21]

4. The number of children under the age of 18 living with a single parent has risen from 6 million in 1960 to nearly 21 million in the year 2010.[22]

Between 1950 and 2011, according to calculations by the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the marriage rate fell from 90 marriages a year per 1,000 unmarried women to just 31, a stunning 66 percent decline.  Equally disturbing, 43% of American children grow up in fatherless homes and the percentage of children born out of wedlock is now at a staggering 40.8%.[23]

A marginal—yet growing— opinion also suggests that parental differences are merely imaginary byproducts of social gender constructs.  Academic proponents supporting this thesis claim that men and women are essentially the same and are only different insofar as they are heavily influenced by child rearing, media, school, and other forms of cultural transmission.  According to their theory, child development is purposely directed by the social constructs of compulsory heterosexuality—that is to say, “the social reproduction of male power.”  What we need, they say, is to lift ourselves out of the “stone age” surrounding the male/female distinction.[24]  Proper child-rearing, from this perspective, does not depend on the contributions of both masculine and feminine influences, because their healthy development will occur regardless of gender.

A recent study conducted by New York University, however, claims fathers do play a decisive role in teenage sexual behavior.[25]  Teens whose fathers approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to start having sex earlier than teens whose fathers did not approve, affirming that “fathers may distinctly influence the sexual behavior of their adolescent children,” and fathers may indeed “parent in ways that differ from mothers.”[26]  A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that consistent with the absence of fathers in the home, 47% of their high school sons or daughters have had intercourse, “leading to unwanted transmission of sexual disease and pregnancy.[27]

The fact remains that family structure works better for children because fathers and mothers do parent differently, in ways that complement one another and boost a child’s well-being and gender identity.  This understanding of the family structure gets to the heart of the same-sex “marriage” debate that many of us have engaged in recent years.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has the intention of altering the historical, traditional and natural concept of marriage between one man and one woman.  Five states retain a statuary ban on same-sex “marriage,” while twenty-eight have a ban en force.  However, the tide is shifting. 70% of Americans born after 1980 believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, which is 20% higher than the population born between 1965 and 1979, and approximately 30% higher than the Baby Boomer generation.[28]

Unlike friendships or other close relationships, the public purpose of marriage is to unite men and women and the children they create.  Because the environment our children are raised in does play a significant role in their future contribution to and the overall welfare of society, government reasonably recognizes what studies have concluded: the best chance that children have for their future lives is to be raised in stable homes by their biological married parents.

Marriage is clearly a social justice issue as families are dependent upon it for their flourishing.  The differences between children who grow up in intact homes as opposed to those who grow up in broken homes are not inconsequential.  Children separated from their biological parents fare less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents.

Studies suggest that children reared in intact homes do best on the following indices:

– Educational achievement: higher literacy and graduation rates.

– Emotional health: lower rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

– Familial and sexual development: stronger sense of identity, normal timing of onset of puberty, lower rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy and lower rates of sexual abuse.

– Child and adult behavior: lower rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency and incarceration.[29]

Even a left-leaning research institution called Child Trends concurs with this assessment:

“[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.  Children in single parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in step-families or cohabitating relationships face higher risk of poor outcomes . . ..  There is this value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents . . ..  [I]t is not simply the presence of two parents . . . but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”[30]

Recent literature reviews conducted by the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Institute for American Values all corroborate the critical importance of intact households for children.[31]

Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, argues that, all things being equal, good marriages provide strong benefits for the common good of society, while the fragmentation of the home is a leading indicator of what has happened since we’ve institutionalized broken homes through no-fault divorce and other legislation.  She states:

“Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship.  It is also a social good.  Not every person can or should marry.  And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result.  But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities that suffer from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.”[32]

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.  When harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result.  Great benefits, both for families and states, result.”[33]  

In the United States, marriage lowers the probability of child poverty by 82%,[34] married women are less likely to experience domestic violence than cohabitating and serially dating women, and marriage increases the likelihood that children enjoy warm, close relationships with parents.

V. Faithful citizenship and the family

As Americans we are abundantly blessed with constitutional freedoms that protect and allow us to participate in public life.  We are grateful to live in a nation that has bequeathed us with the latitude to engage in public discourse and contribute to policy decisions aimed at serving our families and the common welfare.  Catholics have enjoyed a unique relationship that has allowed a rich development and flourishing of our teaching and activities with regard to human life, marriage and family, justice and peace, and good stewardship.  The Church and her institutions, including the family, must be free to fulfill their mission and to collaborate with public authorities without pressure or sacrifice to Her fundamental teachings or moral principles.

Bound by the common destiny we share, obstacles to human flourishing are profoundly challenging for us precisely because they affect our moral being.  The Gospel compels us, as a people who hold fast to faith and reason, to bring the essential truths about human life to the public square and to practice charity for the benefit of those who have less.  There is no realm of worldly affairs that can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion.  Our obligation to teach the morals that shape the lives of every man, woman and child has been given to us by Jesus Christ.  The witness of the Church, therefore, is of Her nature public, and Her proposed rational arguments to shape policy decisions is a working model of the right for individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference or discrimination.

VI. The assault on reason

As the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger warned against allowing orthopraxis (right conduct) to command orthodoxy (right belief).  Ratzinger stressed how behavior is dictated by what we believe, and if we ignore first principles, if we avoid the search for the truth, we will exercise poor judgment and thus experience poor behavior.[35]  The family today has inherited a crisis of confidence in our institutions that is filling a void of proper catechesis and education with human intuition, lacking in any genuine appeal to truth or justice.[36]  This subjectivism has soiled the good, the true and the beautiful with a culture bent on incongruous attacks on reason itself.  Its violence lies in denying the reality of objective truths, thereby aiding and promoting the most intrinsic evils which undermine the meaning of relationships and, therefore, the very fabric of good social order.

To illustrate this attack on reason, one need go no further than the judicial intervention in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  In their plurality opinion, Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, and Souter invoked a famous “mystery clause” to uphold the Court’s 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. One peculiar passage reads as follows:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

If, by right, one may freely define the meaning of existence without hindrance, the provisioning of law carries no weight whatsoever. Indeed, this “mystery clause” appears inspired by the influential Age of Enlightenment which celebrates a highly individualistic and subjective view of “freedom,” and, therefore, of “choice.”  It creates the impression that choice is, in and of itself, a moral act of human freedom and an ultimate expression of life and it rejects any objective criteria or moral participation in the shaping of social situations.  This view, incompatible with rational thought, is surely the work of Satan, in the words of Blessed John Paul, who lusted after this so-called “liberty” above all else.[37]

VII. The loss of a Catholic culture

Assimilation has played a significant part in diminishing our uniquely Catholic identity, which, in turn, contributed to the decline of the rich, past Catholic subculture historically embedded in our society.  The respectable author Russell Shaw documents how this previous subculture protected against the secularization of Catholic citizens and immigrants.  He writes,

“For a long time, the subculture of immigrant Catholicism more or less successfully shielded Catholics (“ghettoized” them, some would say).  But starting in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1960s and 1970s, American Catholics, instead of reforming and updating their subculture, dismantled this network of distinctively Catholic institutions and programs, organizations and movements that had served them well.”[38]

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, concurs.

“Instead of changing the culture around us, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be changed by the culture.  We’ve compromised too cheaply.  We’ve hungered after assimilating and fitting in.  And in the process, we’ve been bleached out and absorbed by the culture we were sent to make holy.”[39]

Shaw’s response to the growing secularization among Catholics is the recovery of a new Catholic subculture to restore the former communities of their immigrant forefathers, embedding themselves into what were once unique, thriving Catholic communities surrounded by parishes and the pastoral care of parishes; an organic community, distinguishable by common traits that differentiate them from society at large, which witnesses to its unique values and ideals through a deliberate way of life.  This also includes living in close proximity together for the sustainment and the proliferation of Catholic identity.

VIII. Conclusion

Politics cannot solve the cultural problems that the family faces today.  Clearly, the fundamental causes of the decline of the family are rooted in an erosion of spiritual development.[40]  Those who have been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith share in the Church’s mission of salvation and are called to make the Church present and active as salt and light to the world.  We cannot stand by and allow false ideologies to crumble the moral foundations of our civilization and the vital institution of the family.  

Indeed as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in December 2011 to the Pontifical Council for the Family, that the new evangelization will only succeed if the family is seen as a vital component of its exercise.  His words:

“The New Evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church. …  Just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.  The family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the “human space” of our encounter with Christ. …  The family founded on the Sacrament of Marriage is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community.  Just like the Church, it is called to welcome, radiate, and show the world the love and presence of Christ.”[41]

As Christians, we must renew our commitment to present the truth of the Gospel to all, stepping out onto the public square, articulating a new evangelization for this secular age, submerging ourselves in the vigorous baths of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; always displaying, as St. Paul urges, “the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”[42]

For my conclusion, I ask us prayerfully to call upon the intercession of the Holy Family.

Dear Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Bless us and grant us the grace of loving the Church as we should,
above every other earthly thing, and whenever duty calls, of ever showing our love by courageous deeds in the defense and propagation of the Faith,
whether by word or by the sacrifice of our possessions or even our very lives.

Bless especially our efforts to build up a culture of family life that models the example of Your Holy Family so that after battling the challenges of this earthly life we may enjoy your everlasting companionship in heaven.

Amen.

MOST REV. JOHN NIENSTEDT is the archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul. He delivered this address at the Napa Institute on Aug. 2. An abridged version of this address appeared in the September issue of Legatus magazine


[1] Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Lib. I, lect. 1. “Man is by nature a social animal, since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort (Avicenna). Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well. He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”
[2] Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, § 3 (1885).
[3] Genesis 1:27.
[4] Id. at 1:28.
[5] The Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:17.
[6] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, § 17 (1994).
[7] Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married. New York: Scepter Publishers, 1996.
[8] John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane, § 25 (1981).
[9] Rev. Patrick Peyton, All For Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., 1967.
[10] The Gospel According to Saint Luke 12: 31.
[11]. Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, (New York, Encounter Books, 2012), 1-4.
[12] Ibid., 37.
[13] Ibid., 7.
[14] Gary Gutting: “The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church… the issue has been settled by the voice of the Catholic people.” opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15 (accessed June 28th).
[15] Leo XIII, Permoti Nos. (1895) “Catholics must urgently wish for and pursue only those goals which are seen quite truly to lead to the common good, in preference to their own personal opinions and interests.”
[16] RK Jones RK and J Dreweke, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2011.
[17] World Health Organization Statement, Carcinogenicity of combined hormonal contraceptives and combined menopausal treatment (2005).
[18] G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.
[19] Tejada-Vera B, Sutton PD. “Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 58, no 25. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports. Vol. 58 Nm. 25. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_25.pdf  (accessed May 29th, 2013).
[20] Id, at Table MS-1.
[21] Households and Families 2010, U.S. Census Bureau, Table 2. Households by Type: 2000 and 2010. http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf (accessed July 1, 2013) 
[22] Id, at Table 2.
[23]Helen M. Alvaré, “Father-Absence, Social Equality and Social Progress,” Quinnipiac Law Review, vol. 29, No 1, 2011, pp. 123-163.
[24] Sandra Lipsitz Bem, “Dismantling Gender Polarization and Compulsory Heterosexuality: Should We Turn the Volume Down or Up?” The Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 32, No. 4, 1995.
[25] Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, “Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review.” In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally published online, October 15, 2012 (accessed June 4th, 2013)
[26] Id.
[27] Key Graphics on Trends Among High School Students from CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 1991-2011. Centers for Diseas Control. http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2012/YRBS-Graphics2012.html (accessed June 24, 2013)
[28] 2013 May Survey, The Pew Poll Forum. 
[29] See Marriage and the Public Good Ten Principles (Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 9-19.
[30] Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?”, Child Trends Research Brief (June 2002) 1-2, 6.
[31] W. Bradford Wilcox, William J. Doherty, Helen Fisher, et al., Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 2nd ed. (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005), 6.
[32] Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?” 197-212, 199, in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals eds. Robert P. George & Jean Bethke Elshtain (2006).
[33] The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. ed. Rev. J. B. Morris. London: James Park and Co., 1879.
[34] Robert Rector, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty. (accessed May 29, 2013)
[35] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.
[36] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “This remains the mandate of the Church: she does not preach what the powerful want to hear. Her criterion is truth and justice, even if that garners no applause and collides with human power.” (Homily delivered in Frascati, Italy, on July 15, 2012).
[37] Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum, § 14 (1888).
[38] Russell Shaw, “Tending the New Catholic Subculture,” Catholicity.com. http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/rshaw/08871.html. (accessed June 22, 2013) Shaw also writes, “22 million ex-Catholics make up the third largest group in the United States identifiable in religious terms, after Catholics and Southern Baptists.”
[39] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, “Young People Today Have Lost ‘Moral Vocabulary,” Catholic News Agency, October 16, 2010.
[40] Leo XIII, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio. (1871) ( “A religious error is the main root of all social and political evils.”
[41]Benedict XVI, Address to Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, December 1, 2011.
[42] 1 Thessalonians 5:8

Hope for the childless

Dr. Thomas Hilgers’ breakthrough technology delivers the goods for women . . .

Thomas Hilgers

As a medical student in 1968, Dr. Thomas Hilgers could never have imagined that a papal encyclical would shape his future practice and lead him to develop a science that helps couples with trouble conceiving children.

After reading Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, the young doctor was immediately struck by the Holy Father’s appeal to scientists to “elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births.”

Good medicine

The Pope’s challenge led Hilgers to conduct research on the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning and to develop the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, a standardized modification of the Billings Method. The Creighton System became the basis for NaPro (natural procreative) Technology, a science that monitors a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health.

Through NaPro Technology, thousands of women like Lucynda Choi and Kristy Tucker have been able to conceive and give birth to children using treatment methods that not only cooperate with their reproductive systems but are in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Both women sought out NaPro physicians after their doctors tried to steer them toward in vitro fertilization (IVF), a method considered immoral by the Church because it generates human life outside the marital act. Choi, 37, and her husband Michael now have a two-year old daughter and 14-month-old son. Tucker, 34, and her husband Mark are the parents of a 17-month-old daughter.

“Conventional medicine only wants to do a couple of things. They don’t really want to find out what the problem is,” said Tucker of Lexington, Ky.

Michael and Lucynda Choi with their children

Likewise, Choi said, before she went to Hilgers, her doctors gave her responses varying from, “You’re never going to get pregnant on your own” to “Life would be easier if you had a hysterectomy.” The doctor who told Choi she would never get pregnant on her own urged her to try IVF. But at that point, she said, no one seemed to care about her health in a way that addressed her reproductive system so that she could have children.

Hilgers, who has spent his career developing and applying NaPro Technology, said it is simply good medicine.

“I happen to think most of what is being done with women’s reproductive health care today is very bad medicine, and we’ve developed a whole climate of health-care professionals who could care less about what’s wrong with the woman,” he told Legatus magazine. “If she has irregular cycles or cysts, they put her on the [birth-control] pill. Then, if it’s infertility, they don’t look at the causes. They jump over and rush to IVF.”

By contrast, he said, NaPro works with foundational medical principles that are used in all branches of medicine. “But in the area of gynecology, [traditional medicine] stopped about 30 to 35 years ago in terms of looking for causes.”

Hilgers founded the Omaha-based Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in 1985. Today it includes the National Center for Women’s Health, FertilityCare Center of Omaha, and the Center for NaPro Ethics.

NaPro revolution

Although Hilgers doesn’t see NaPro moving into mainstream use, he has observed increased interest in the technology. For example, he said, the Paul VI Institute’s fellowship program is always filled, and NaPro programs now are being offered in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. In addition, he said, more than 250 fertility care centers in the U.S. and Canada practice NaPro — and their number has increased in the last decade.

“The revolution with NaPro will occur much more slowly than it did with the birth-control pill,” Hilgers predicted, “because all you needed with the pill was a doctor with a prescription pad. It was instant. With this, you have to train a whole new cadre of people to take on responsibility, because they never learned it in medical or nursing school. It’s a longer, more difficult challenge, but it’s very much worth it.”

Mark and Kristy Tucker with Katie Beth

Tucker, who became pregnant after two years of treatment by a NaPro doctor in Cincinnati, said she has tried to spread the word about NaPro through her blog, www.percolatingpetals.blogspot.com.

“So many women suffer from infertility and this is a great solution, but it’s not being talked about.”

Another advantage of NaPro is that it can be used to treat women with problems other than infertility — including postpartum depression and abnormal bleeding.

Hilgers said he thinks infertility today is more prevalent than in the past and is likely related to women having multiple sexual partners, promiscuity, infection and stress. “Women are under a lot of stress these days. They’re expected to do so many different things. Hormonal systems are sensitive to outside stressors.”

Choi, who hails from Beaverton, Ore., said that just among the couples she knows, many seem to have trouble getting pregnant these days. “It’s almost like an epidemic.”

Choi often recommends NaPro, but finds that unless the couple are Catholic, they usually don’t warm to the idea. “They also don’t like having to do so much of the work themselves. Everybody is so busy. They want it to be easy. They want to just go to the IVF doctor, do a procedure and make it happen.”

Hilgers added, “Everything that’s worthwhile takes some effort. The length of time [NaPro requires] is a little bit of a frustration, yet we’re working on trying to resolve it. We honestly don’t know all the causes of infertility. Maybe in the next five years or more we may be able to speed up the process because of better understanding.”

Judy Roberts is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.

—————-

The trouble with in vitro fertilization

Catholic teaching about human reproduction remains widely misunderstood, as the recent debate over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandates has shown.

One area that many find especially problematic is the Church’s opposition to such technologies as in vitro fertilization (IVF). If the Church holds that marriage is for the procreation of children, some ask, why would it discourage methods that could lead to the birth of a child?

Fr. Thomas Berg

The answer, according to Fr. Thomas Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., lies in the definition of marital love as both procreative and unitive — or creating an exclusive and permanent one-flesh union of man and woman. The Church considers the connection between these two dimensions unbreakable and teaches that they may never be intentionally separated, as happens with IVF when an effort is made to generate human life outside or apart from marital sexual intercourse.

In addition, the Church also has concerns about the multiple embryos that IVF creates. Often only one survives and the others are frozen and eventually destroyed. “For every IVF baby that ‘makes it,’ half a dozen or more are destroyed,” Fr. Berg said. “The end does not justify the means.”

Even so-called “natural IVF,” in which a woman’s egg is retrieved, fertilized with her husband’s sperm and returned to the uterus, is a moral compromise, Fr. Berg said, because it substitutes for the marital act. “The desire for a child does not constitute a morally sufficient reason to be involved with this industry,” he said, adding that there is nothing “natural” about this particular procedure.

For the same reason, Catholics should also avoid Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (GIFT) in which the eggs and semen are placed in a fallopian tube for spontaneous conception and eventual passage into the uterine cavity. Although GIFT is touted as an alternative for patients whose religion prohibits conception outside the body, Fr. Berg said it’s considered immoral by a majority of Catholic moral theologians because it interrupts the direct causal link between intercourse and conception.

—Roberts